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Friday, February 4, 2011

Get it right, Bourdain

You may have read in a previous FFT post about Hannah Hayes' open letter to Chef Anthony Bourdain. If not, you can read her letter here. What you may not have read and probably didn't even hear about is Chef Bourdain's response to Hannah. You can read that here.

Chef Bourdain's beef (pardon the pun) with Cargill, and inadvertently Hannah's dad, is that they get their hamburger from a supplier, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) who 'use ammonia in their hamburger'. I feel like there are some misplaced assumptions taking place - Chef Bourdain, let's get a few things straight.

1 - Ammonia is a natural chemical found in the human body and also in many foods at significant concentrations. In fact, products like peanut butter, cheese and a few other foods contain ammonia at levels of 400-800 ppm.
2 - Ammonia is not poured into beef, stirred around with a spoon and then served into hamburgers. Gaseous ammonia is used to kill harmful pathogens such as salmonella and e. coli in order to prevent them from making consumers very, very sick.
3 - Quoting the New York Times does not mean you are quoting a reliable source. Here and here are prime examples of misinformation - both articles are grotesquely one-sided and lack scientific based facts.
4 - If gaseous ammonia was not used to treat hamburger, the potential for harmful pathogens to make their way into the food supply would increase ten-fold.
5 - Ammonia is not used to treat all beef, only BPI uses it to treat only their hamburger. It is not used on steaks, roasts, ribs etc.
6 - BPI doesn't supply the entire nation with hamburger. So if you really just can't swallow the idea of having extra-safe beef, purchase hamburger from a non-Cargill supplier.

Again, technology allows us to have a safe, efficient food supply. Much safer than it was 50 years ago when meat plants weren't so heavily regulated....

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~


  1. It's hard to believe that peanut butter contains 400-800 ppm of ammonia considering the IDLH is 300ppm. As someone who works with ammonia, you know that it can generally be detected at 5ppm or greater.

    That said - you're right on about everything else.

  2. Brian,
    The best I could find in a food chemistry book is that peanut butter contains 489 ppm and blue cheese can contain upwards of 1300 ppm. The only thing I can take from the IDLH being 300 ppm is that inhalation is very different from consumption.

    Thanks for chiming in on the blog. We appreciate the input!

    - Food For Thought



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